As all good stories begin, it all started when someone threw out a crazy Idea: “Let’s go shoot a mountain goat in Alaska.” said Ben jokingly, yet serious. I don’t think he ever expected Don to agree. From this moment on, these two men were hanging on for a ride that they were just barely prepared for mentally, physically and emotionally.
The next step to this adventure was to find an outfitter that fit their budget and timeline. Looking mainly at two, the one outfitter required that the hunters drew a tag first. Based on past experience, even with an 80% draw rate, Ben and Don knew that they would land in the 20% of unsuccessful applicants. This led them to choose an outfitter that hadn’t filled his hunts due to his gold mining habit and upcoming retirement. In this hunt, they were able to buy tags over the counter as long as the kill quota wasn’t filled.
Alaska Crosscountry Guiding was very accommodating when it came to getting prepared for the hunt. They sent Don and Ben a list of gear that were needed for the hunt, on which was items such as a 7500 CI backpack or bigger, waterproof clothes, and walking poles. Because both of these men are used to hunting on horseback, the backpack was a foreign concept as well as a daunting one. We set Don up with a system from Eberlestock that included their F1 Mainframe, F65 Little Big Top, J-Type Zip-on Dry Bag and a Side Scabbard for a bolt action rifle. Don quickly learned that he could rearrange and combine all of these packs to form one great system for nearly any situation that provides 7800 CI of internal storage.
The other item that they seriously underestimated was the need for a warm sleeping bag. They both went out and tested the new sleeping bags which they had purchased while they were deer hunting in late October. Don spent one of his coldest nights ever sleeping during one of these trials and promptly returned his -20 degree rated sleeping bag and purchased a better quality -40 degree Marmot goose down bag, deciding that it was worth the added weight. Ben ended up choosing to use a -20 degree Slumberjack sleeping bag for the hunt. Both men ended up staying warm enough for comfort on their trip.
The hardest part of sleeping was keeping the water from coming inside the sleeping bag, which tended to happen from the one opening for your face. They solved this issue by sleeping under a rain fly, which was much lighter to pack than a tent.
And of course, for a hunt as big as this, only the best rifle and scope combo would make either man comfortable. Ben chose to bring his Kimber Mountain Ascent in 300 WSM topped with a Leupold VX6 3-18×44 with CDS turret. This rig tipped the scale at a meager 7 pounds. Don Brought his custom 7mm WSM that consisted of a Pierce titanium short action, Manners carbon fiber stock, Proof Research carbon fiber barrel, MBM Beast Brake, and a Timney trigger to name a few parts. To top it off, he had a 3-18X44 Leupold Mk6 optic. As shown, Don’s rifle weighed fractions of a pound more than Ben’s setup. With these systems, both hunters were prepared to walk up and down the steepest glaciers and shoot across the widest canyons.
The last couple important things that they both were concerned with getting for the trip included some high-quality rain gear, sturdy boots, and warm clothing. After much research online, Ben chose to go all out and buy the best-rated rain gear out there. Consequently, he was drabbed from head to toe in Kuiu gear. Don, however, decided to cut costs and buy standard Gore-Tex clothing. Both men also chose to wear Kenetrek Boots due to their sturdy construction that provided ample ankle support. These boots also had to stand up to the abuse that the crampons they would soon wear dish out.
Foreshadowing a bit, both guys were satisfied with their gear, but in the end, nothing was able to keep them completely dry between the rain and sweat they endured.
Day 1 of the Goat Hunt:
The first day consisted mainly of traveling from southwestern Idaho to Hanes, Alaska. This involved several stopgaps, starting with a flight from Idaho to Seattle, Washington. Then from Seattle, Washington to Juneau, Alaska. This six-hour flight then was followed up with a charter flight in a bush plane from Juneau to Hanes, Alaska. Once on this small plane, they felt like their adventure had truly begun.
After landing in Hanes, Pam who was with the guiding service picked the two exhausted travelers up and they made their rounds from the closest sporting goods store to the Department of Natural Resources in order to pick up the last bit of gear for the hunt as well as the required permits. Finally, arriving at the lodge late that night, the guide presented them with a hard decision: do they hunt the nearby glacier valley in the morning, or do they prepare items for camp, put it all in a canoe and drag it up the river against the rapids into an area that is known to produce goats?
The morning of Day two, it was snowing heavily and socked in with a bitter cold. Visibility was low, but they headed up the valley anyway. Between clouds and snowflakes, Don, Ben, and their guide finally spotted goats. The first group of goats were not as mature and were in such a cliff ridden location that it would make getting to them nearly impossible. The second group of goats that they spotted from the valley floor had mature billies that were feeding in more open, accessible terrain. However, these goats were much further away and the sunlight was rapidly fading into long shadows. With little to no camping gear, they made a collective decision to return to the lodge that night and head back up to these goats in the morning.
Rested up and already imagining the kill shot, Ben and Don headed out with their guide toward the goats that they had spotted the day before. Moving up the mountain, they quickly encountered huge patches of thick alder and devils club which is a thorny nuisance and was almost impenetrable.
Moving with their heavy packs as the brush clawed at the little skin they had showing and wading through the deep snow crunching underfoot was slow going to say the least. In the end, they all underestimated the time that would be required to get to the goats. These determined hunters would make it to the goats early the next morning if they had food, water, and camping supplies, but they had none of these things. Needless to say, mistakes were made and it cost them nearly this whole day as well as a large portion of their precious energy. Dragging themselves back to the lodge, they took consolation knowing that they still had plenty of time to accomplish their goals.
At this point, everyone knew that it was time to change their plans from what they had been doing to the thing that the guide was used to doing. Instead of backtracking toward the goats that they had already found, they all packed up their gear and supplies for a camp into a canoe and headed into familiar territory where they were sure they could get a goat. Once packed, they drug the gear-filled canoe up the river for several miles. At times, Ben and Don took turns pulling the canoe, but it was painfully obvious that it was hard work that took a knack which they hadn’t learned yet. The guide ended up pulling this heavy craft most of the way against the current, portaging around rapids and sand bars in the river. Again, running out of light due to the short winter days, they arrived at the cabin up river just in time to catch some rest for the next day.
Up bright and early before shadows were out, Don, Ben, and the guide made another decision that would end up costing them more time. They decided to leave their supplies in their camp in order to keep their packs light and in the hope that they could cover ground more quickly to reach the goats. After they left, they spotted two more groups of goats. Again, the close group consisted of small goats and the further held more mature offerings. All three men headed toward the further group. At the moment that they had about closed the distance on their prey, they decided that they didn’t have the time, food. or water once again. They ended up returning to the cabin empty handed once more, determined to not make the same mistake a fourth time.
Once again, the classic phone alarm started buzzing before the sun was out which jerked everyone awake to start the next day. Ben and Don tore down their camp and loaded it back into the canoe. The new plan was to drag the canoe up the river further toward the goats that they had their sights set on. Because of this, they knew that they were going to burn a full day with this movement. At this point, they were approaching physical fatigue and every bit of clothing they had was soaked through due to the November Alaskan weather which was comprised of fog, rain and snow. Squeezing back into their frozen waders, they again stepped into the water and drug the canoe further up river. They arrived at the base of the mountain below the goats that they were after just in time to again watch the sun fall behind the mountain peaks. Here, they set up a temporary camp and crawled back into their sleeping bags until morning.
This time, when Ben and Don woke up, they stuffed their sleeping bags, food and water into their backpacks and then headed up the mountain after the goats. It was still slow going with their heavy packs and the endless, maze-like alder. The snow was still deep, but was beginning to be rained off compared to the days past. At 2 P.M, they finally got into shooting distance. Ben, Don and the guide sat perched on a ridge, watching for goats in clearings as fog rolled into and out of pockets on the mountainside. Each time the fog came and went, they were spotting new goats that they hadn’t previously seen. They knew it was only a matter of time before they found the right one.
As predicted, they spotted a large Billy 150 yards away during a break in the fog. They had to decide who was going to shoot it and get it done quickly if they were going to take full advantage of this opportunity. Don took spotter’s advantage and decided to shoot the goat. He laid down on the steep mountainside, timed his shot with his heartbeat and breathing and fired across the ravine, anchoring the goat in one shot with his 7mm WSM. Once the shot broke, All of the goats across the canyon started milling around, making their way out of the canyon. During this Brief period of excitement, confusion and fear, Ben spotted a goat that he liked and sent a shot 300 yards into the vitals with his 300 WSM.
Excited with their achievement and relieved of the pressure of depleting time, they had another decision to make. The sun was rapidly setting, they were a long way from the canoe and the rest of their gear and they had little food and water left, although they did have some.
Ben, Don and the guide did what they had prepared to do this time and spent the night on the mountainside. They were 60 yards from the closest goat, yet unable to reach him across the ravine. They each dug a hole in the side of the mountain where they could rest their head and stacked their gear under their feet so that they could attain some sort of laying position. Even with the feelings of recent success, it was uncomfortable, wet and noisy as they huddled under the tarp they had pulled over themselves to try and stay dry from the rain.
In the morning, they agreed to send one man down the mountain while the others went to retrieve the goats. Ben took the important role of preparing camp for the other two’s late arrival because exhaustion had finally began to overcome him. Even though it was only 60 linear yards to Don’s goat, it still took him several hours to close the gap and inspect his trophy. At this point, the hard work got harder. After taking some quick solo pictures, he went to work on skinning his goat with his trusty Havalon and then loaded it all up into his Eberlestock pack setup. Loaded, both Don and the guide’s packs weighed well over 100 pounds each.
Once done, Don met the guide coming down the mountain with Ben’s goat all loaded up. After slowly sliding and stumbling with shaky knees and heavy packs down the steep, slick mountain they arrived at the base where Ben greeted them with a roaring fire well after dark. This was a welcomed sight for both men because they were soaked to the bone from both rain and sweat.
Day 9 began with an alarm going off in the dark yet again, but this time it rang out for longer as the men slowly dragged their tired bodies out of their bags into the cold. For the final time, they loaded everything into the canoe and then hauled it down the river back toward the lodge. This was the last time that these exhausted hunters would have to step down into the frigid ice water.
However, this final river stroll did not go without a hitch. In the rapids, the canoe ended up flipping over and dumping all of their stuff into the cold, icy water. Luckily, everything was found and the electronics turned up unharmed.
Once at the lodge, they took the time to measure the goats and review the previous day’s events with each other. Don’s goat barely missed books measuring in at 46 5/8″. From this point on, it would become a memory of the hardest hunt they had ever been on.
Learn more about the pack Don used by visiting Eberlestock
Watch the recorded video from the guide’s perspective!